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Tobacco firms win legal right to challenge EU rules

cigarettes Image copyright PA

Tobacco firms have won the right to challenge new European Union rules on cigarette packaging.

The High Court referred the case to the EU's Court of Justice after a hearing in London on Monday.

Philip Morris, BAT and Imperial Tobacco were among firms joining forces to attack the legality of the EU's Tobacco Products Directive.

Under the new rules health warnings would have to cover 65% of the front and back of cigarette packaging.

Europe's highest court will be asked to rule whether the EU has misused its powers to legislate for tobacco, and whether its actions are "proportionate".

The court must decide if the new directive complies with European guarantees on fundamental rights and the principle of "subsidiarity" - whether decisions should be taken on a national or regional level rather than by the EU.

The tobacco companies went to court in England because it provides a "fast and efficient forum for private litigants" to reach the European courts, they said.

The EU says the new rules will "deter young people from experimenting with, and becoming addicted to, tobacco".

But Philip Morris senior vice president Marc Firestone said the directive "raises serious questions" about the free movement of goods and competition within the EU.

"We believe the directive disrupts the balance that the EU treaties establish between the Union and the member states, and we are looking forward to a thorough, objective review by the EU's highest court," he said.

Mr Firestone said there was no disagreement that tobacco products should be strictly regulated, "but measures must honour the EU treaties".

The review by the Court of Justice could take up to two years.

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